Marine protection, the way forward

, by Kimberly Zammit

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Marine protection, the way forward
The Azure Window in Gozo, Malta, photographed in 2013. CC Berit Watkin // Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The month of October is not over yet, but big events have already been going on, making headlines and stimulating debate all over the world. From the Catalan quest for independence to President Trump’s declaration that the United States is withdrawing from UNESCO.

Amid all this, a conference on ocean policy and marine protection named Our Ocean was being hosted by the European Union in its smallest member state, Malta. Unfortunately, this conference did not receive the media attention which the events above have and therefore this has spurred my interest in writing something about the event.

Our Ocean Conference

This Conference was proudly hosted by the European Union in Malta on the 5th and 6th of October. It was the fourth conference of its sort so far, with the next conferences scheduled to take place in Indonesia (2018) and Norway (2019). The saga of Our Ocean Conferences has been an American initiative which is divided into four main issues: Sustainable Fisheries, Marine Pollution, Climate Related Impacts on the Ocean and Marine Protected Areas.

As a Maltese, I was very pleased to see this conference held in Malta particularly as this can serve as a way to show that size does not always matter. It was proof that one of the smallest countries in the world and the smallest member of the EU can also be committed and have a voice when it comes to such fundamental topics. Moreover, as Malta is an archipelago of islands, the ocean is a fundamental part of our life and culture. I could therefore say that this topic is one which is close to my heart. Secondly, the topic of marine environment and protection deserves to be taken seriously, and coordinated action needs to be taken to ensure the sustainability of our oceans.

The seriousness of this issue reflects through the many notable attendees and speakers who travelled to a tiny island of just 316 square kilometres to give a speech and pledge their contribution to the cause. To name a few: HRH Prince Charles of Wales, Queen dowager of Jordan Noor Al-Hussein, former United States Secretary of State John Kerry, Albert II reigning Monarch of Monaco, the EU’s High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime and Fisheries Karmenu Vella and Prime Minister of the Republic of Malta Joseph Muscat. These various speakers all represent different countries with different agendas, yet they all agree that our ocean needs our attention.

Pledged action

The welcoming output of this conference was twofold. One commitment was budgetary as 112 countries from six continents pledged over 7 billion euros to marine environment protection; the second was policy-oriented as 400 commitments were made, 36 of which were made by the European Commission, totalling over €550m of EU-funded initiatives to tackle challenges related to global oceans. The remaining commitments were made by other countries and significant players from the private sector including Marks & Spencer, PepsiCo and Carrefour amongst many others.

It is truly encouraging to see the commitment shown by 112 countries in six different areas of marine protection. The conference’s host country, Malta, announced its plan to designate 30% of its waters as Marine Protected Areas in 2018 to ensure the protection of caves and reefs. As part of this objective, Malta also announced that it would develop management plans by 2020 for the fourteen marine protected area sites it designated in 2016 comprising roughly 3,487 square kilometres, covering an area considerably larger than the country itself. Moreover, in his opening speech the Maltese Prime Minister said that the country is committed towards recovering more than 70% of the plastic bottles generated on the islands by 2019.

Food for thought

Oceans are a fundamental part of each and every human being as they are one of the main sources of life. Human beings need sustainable oceans for a sustainable future however unfortunately “we are currently part of the problem” as Ms. Mogherini very honestly put it. Moreover, it is estimated that by the year 2050 our oceans could contain more plastic than fish and, as Ms. Mogherini continues, “the poison that we throw into the water comes back to us, to our tables, in the food we eat”. This is the stark reality we live in and the Our Ocean initiative is aiming to bring awareness to the protection of our oceans. Former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, believes that “It’s not a question of whether we can do it, this is a question of political will to do it. We need to guarantee that we are making this a political movement.”

One doesn’t need to be a marine biologist or expert to realise that serious concrete action needs to be taken in order to save and protect marine environment from our own actions. In such a globalised and busy world, the issues that are at the very core of our existence tend to be forgotten and cast aside. However, after the fourth Our Ocean conference and after having seen the commitments of 112 countries and private actors, hope across the international scene seems to have reignited, hope that with collective action our oceans would be sustainable for the future generations to come.

The JEF-Europe Congress will take place in Malta from 10 to 12 November, 2017.

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